Theology Ph.D. students to spend six weeks in Holy Land learning geography, history, and archaeology

Author: Brian Wallheimer

Robin JensenRobin Jensen

Abraham Winitzer 600Abraham Winitzer

The Notre Dame Department of Theology is hosting an academic experience in the Holy Land this summer for graduate students in Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity and History of Christianity, adding a sense of place for those studying ancient scriptures.

Abraham Winitzer, the Jordan H. Kapson Associate Professor of Jewish Studies, and Robin Jensen, the Patrick O’Brien Professor of Theology, will lead the trip for up to 10 students. They will spend four weeks at Notre Dame’s Jerusalem Global Gateway and Tantur Ecumenical Institute learning the geography and history of the Holy Land, then spend two weeks at a nearby archaeological site, Tell Azeka, to participate in an excavation led by experts from Tel Aviv University, along with others from other leading institutions, including Heidelberg University and the Pontifical Biblical Institute.

Having feet on the ground adds considerable depth for students trying to make sense of texts written thousands of years ago, Winitzer said.

“The Bible, both the Old Testament and New Testament, come out of a context of the Holy Land. Being in the landscape and what things literally look like and how the geography relates to the text is incredibly meaningful for understanding the biblical text,” Winitzer said. 

“If you read the Old Testament, you come out almost inevitably with an impression that at the time of its writing, the main idea is that there is one God. You go to the Holy Land and visit sites and realize that was an ideal, but it was very different on the ground. There is every reason to believe the old ways persisted much longer than those writing the text want you to believe.”

Timothy Matovina, chair of the Department of Theology, said the trip will be a distinctive feature for Christianity and Judaism in Antiquity, making the program all the more competitive with its peers.

“Anybody who has been to the Holy Land knows that your reading of the Scriptures afterward is never quite the same. You get a picture of what it was like to be in Galilee and walk through Jerusalem,” Matovina said. “It’s just a whole new experience that moves past the textual into the physical geography and space where the biblical events took place.”

Winitzer hopes that this symposium will continue every other year, adding a distinctive dimension to training in biblical studies at Notre Dame and leading to the University becoming a leader in some of the archaeological excavations in the Holy Land.

This year’s trip, which will run from late June to early August, is funded through the Crown-Minow Endowment for Jewish Studies and the Kurt and Tessye Simon Endowment for Excellence in Jewish Studies.